Rapper Josh Sallee presents his strongest offering yet with new album Hush Hush 

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Local rapper Josh Sallee is at his rope’s end on Hush Hush, his latest full-length project and first proper album since 2014’s Know Society.

It is cliché in the hip-hop world to say someone is rapping like his life depends on it, but Sallee flows at a frantic pace for much of the project. He sounds troubled and paranoid. His voice cracks with emotion. He puts his guard down, and his lyrics are as raw as the emotions he has suddenly opened up to the world.

To put it another way, Sallee has never sounded better.

Know Society’s release in 2014 was coupled with a lot of media attention and hype. It wasn’t Sallee’s debut, but it was the project that thrust him into the Oklahoma City music scene’s top tier.

The buzz around Hush Hush’s release June 27 was comparatively quieter. It’s hard to believe it was not an intentional effort by the rapper, given the context of his career, the album title and its cover, which features an assumedly personal confessional about Sallee’s own struggles with depression.

It is important to not confuse a lack of preceding buzz with a lack of effort; Hush Hush is quite the opposite. This isn’t a rush job to appease fans between major efforts. It is obvious Sallee took the time to make this album his most coordinated and focused project to date.

One part of his angst comes from the frustrations of being an artist trapped between local prominence and a wider breakthrough. The rapper pieces together an ingenious narrative on Hush Hush through heavy, spaced-out samples of John Lennon interviews. In someone else’s hands, the idea of Lennon narrating a hip-hop album is corny, but the music legend’s snippets are so pertinent to what Sallee is saying that it works.

Hush Hush’s seventh track, “Loose,” features a sampled quote from Lennon’s 1970 Rolling Stone interview. In it, Lennon said, “I resent being an artist... I’d sooner be in the audience, really, but I’m not capable of it.”

Rap songs about the stressors of being a prominent artist are nothing new for Sallee, but never has he made that burden quite so clear.

The album’s opening number, “Pressure,” is just one spot in which the emcee communicates his frustrations. He spits his lyrics in a hectic but precise measure that sets the tone for the project. Guest vocalist Cassie Jo Craig should also be commended for contributing the LP’s best chorus.

Hush Hush’s other standout moments come from energetic radio-ready single “Awayo” and “The Dividends,” both assisted by Maryland rapper K.A.A.N., who shows off immense technical skill in both of his guest verses.

A perceived conflict between Sallee’s straight-flowing songs and slower, pitch-adjusted jams has been a criticism of past projects. The rapper’s auto-tuned crooning on “The Worst” does stick out in tone from the rest of the album. When Sallee wants to take it slow, he’s best off replicating the unadjusted rap-sung delivery he offers fans on the sixth track, “Whatever It Is.”

Hush Hush is Sallee’s most consistent work from beginning to end. His lyrics are personal, his flows are sharp and the production is strong. There’s a decidedly darker tone here that was missing on Know Society. It’s an exciting new layer to the artist’s dimensionality. Sallee has never seemed more relatable, nor has what he’s saying seemed more interesting.

Hopefully this album gets the public attention it deserves. Sallee has already grabbed listeners’ ears. Now he’s coming for their hearts.

Print headline: Silencing critics, Local rap mainstay Josh Sallee puts forth his most concentrated effort yet on Hush Hush.

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